Cancel Culture and a Fiery Furnace

Text: Daniel 3:1-30

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” —Isaiah 43:2

In the 1920’s, Eric Liddell was one of the greatest 100m sprinters Scotland had ever produced. Known as the “Flying Scotsman,” Liddell was in the spotlight and poised to bring home the gold medal during the 1924 Olympics. That is, until his convictions got in the way. Oh, how faith can sometimes be inconvenient! The 100m finals in Paris were scheduled on a Sunday and Eric believed that running on the Sabbath was dishonoring to God, so he refused to participate in the 100m. As the media can so readily do, they pounced on Liddell by vilifying him and labeling him a traitor. He found himself the brunt of “cancel culture” long before the phrase was ever coined.

Has your faith ever caused you to act on principles or convictions that got you into trouble with the culture or social norms? When I read the Bible I see countless heroes who sacrificed everything, not just social vilification, but their entire lives to remain obedient to God in the face of intense persecution. Hebrews 11 gives us a summary of the many who faced suffering, torture, and death for their faith. If we think that we can somehow skate through this world without paying a price for our faith in one way or another, we might have the wrong faith! The Bible makes it unmistakably clear that our faith—if genuine—will cause us to be canceled or vilified in some way (John 15:18-25).

In our current devotional series from the book of Daniel, we come to chapter three, where King Nebuchadnezzar erects a golden statue to which he commands all the people to bow down and worship. Here we see a discernible link connecting to Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2 (last week’s devotion) and the image he made in Daniel 3. As God gave Daniel the interpretation for the king’s dream, we saw that only the head was gold (symbolizing that Babylon was a temporary kingdom). When Nebuchadnezzar deliberately made an entire statue of gold in chapter 3, it appears he is arrogantly portraying his reign and authority as one that would never end—in defiance of God’s clear interpretation of his dream.

Nebuchadnezzar goes into full-scale tyrannical mode. He sends for all the prefects, governors, and public officials to come and gather for the dedication of his statue. The mandate to attend the ceremony indicates that he is using the worship of this image to test the allegiance of his people. Orders were given that when the musicians and party DJ began to play the music, “you are to fall down and worship the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.” Anyone who didn’t conform by bowing down to the golden image was to be immediately thrown into a burning fiery furnace. No mercy!

When it all went down, there were three young men standing in defiance of the king’s orders. They are the same youths we read about in Daniel 1 who declined to conform to the king’s defiled meal plan. Now Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down to the king’s statue. They understood what this kind of idolatry yielded. Their knees wouldn’t bow for anything except the one true God of heaven and earth. They counted the cost of their faith and determined to obey God rather than man.

The young lads’ refusal to participate in Nebuchadnezzar’s sin party caught the eye of some Chaldeans, who had obvious political motivation, and reported these Jews to the king. This was ancient Babylon’s way of appropriating cancel culture—a heated furnace was typically involved! Nebuchadnezzar was furious, threatening to throw the boys into his fiery furnace. He challenged the young men, “who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” Their response is unflinching: “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

These boys were ready to die for their faith. They were determined that even if God didn’t physically rescue them, they still weren’t going to bow down to the bullying tactics meant to compromise their faith. If they were to burn, they would burn in honor of their convictions and not selling out to cultural conformity.

You’ve probably read this story before and know how it ends. Nebuchadnezzar ordered the furnace to be heated seven times more than it was usually heated, meaning “as hot as possible.” But after these guys were thrown into the furnace, a fourth person surprisingly accompanied them in the fire, described “like the son of the gods.” This manifestation has been explained as a Christophany (a physical appearance of Christ before his incarnation) or an angel. Either way, this is a physical demonstration of God’s presence with believers in their distress, a graphic fulfillment of the Lord’s promise in Isaiah 43:2. The Lord promised his presence with his people, ensuring that their trials and difficulties would not utterly overwhelm them. He always walks with us through the fire. We are never alone!

Nebuchadnezzar is amazed that the fire has no power over these young men. He pulls them from the fire and is so impressed with the witness of their faith that he changes the laws of the land to honor their God.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego never flinched. They never tried to hide their convictions. They didn’t pick a fight, but when it came to them, they were ready to contend for the faith (Jude 1:3). They understood that blending into culture for the sake of approval or acceptance wasn’t an option. Only God was worthy of their allegiance. As Charles Spurgeon wrote:

“You will not be able to go through life without being discovered: a lighted candle cannot be hid. There is a feeling among some good people that it will be wise to be very reticent, and hide their light under a bushel. They intend to lie low all the wartime, and come out when the palms are being distributed. They hope to travel to heaven by the back lanes, and skulk into glory in disguise. Ah me, what a degenerate set!… If you cannot be true to Christ, if your coward heart is recreant to your Lord, do not profess to be his disciple, I beseech you. He that is married to the world, or flinthearted, had better return to his house, for he is of no service in this war.”

If you choose to be obedient to Christ, you too may have to take unpopular stands that may pit you against the culture. You may be mocked, ostracized, unfairly treated, and even vilified. But in the midst of such treatment, we are called to “live such good lives among the [unsaved] that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds” so that they may “glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12). Are you ready for what your faith might cost you? Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

God, you alone are worthy of my allegiance. You are the one who bankrupted heaven to pay the ransom for my sins. You sent Jesus to this earth knowing that He would be flogged by an angry mob, beaten and crucified, so that I could be rescued from the dominion of darkness. You already went to hell and back for my redemption, so there is no fiery furnace in which you will abandon me to myself. Thank you for that assurance. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. What spectacular fireworks display stands out in your memory?
  2. What did King Nebuchadnezzar make and what were the people commanded to do? (Daniel 3:1-6)
  3. How did Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego respond to the king (Daniel 3:16-18)? What do you think gave them that kind of boldness?
  4. What did the crowd observe when the men came out of the fire, and how did the king respond to God’s deliverance of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego? (Daniel 3:26-30)   
  5. What would make you confident or afraid if your safety were threatened because of your faith in God? If God chose not to rescue you from intense personal suffering, how would this affect your faith? What are you willing to risk in order to obey God’s clear commands?

Subscribe to “Abiding In Him” and get the latest devotional in your Inbox once a week.

This VBS curriculum is based on the Old Testament book of Daniel. The theme teaches children how to live with courage in uncertain times. It was designed as a camp curriculum for children 8-12 years of age. Can also serve as a 5-week Sunday morning children’s ministry teaching series.

Rising Above the Hostility of This Age

Text: Daniel 1:1-21

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” —Romans 12:2

It’s one of my son’s favorite workout songs—one I often hear blaring from the garage when Zach is lifting weights. “Rise Above It” is the theme from the movie Cool Runnings, the story of four Jamaican athletes who set out to make history by becoming the first Olympic bobsledding team from their nation. They must overcome extensive adversity and malicious opponents to attain that glory.

“Rise Above It” was the idea behind the conversation I had over lunch last week with a couple of inner-city boys I’ve been mentoring, one twelve and the other fourteen. We talked a great deal about current events and the turmoil in our nation, and most importantly, how to rise above the fray of all the social propaganda and political divisiveness, so we can truly see the world’s deepest need from the lens of biblical truth and gospel-centered justice and reconciliation. It is through this corrective lens that we realize the greatest virtues we can contribute to any society don’t come from merely “conforming” to what the culture demands that we be, but by becoming what God—the Almighty Creator—divinely “purposed” us to be “for such a time as this.”

God never puts us in a time and place to merely conform to our environment, but to “come out and be separate,” as a people who look, live, and think different than the world’s system. We are not here by accident or coincidence. We are not here to evolve into hostile people simply because hostile people want us to conform to their image. We are here to stand out in this historic moment, and reflect that we serve a greater Kingdom than this world’s man-made institutions. Romans 12:2 instructs believers: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

The difference between conforming to this world versus discerning and fleshing out “the will of God” is fought on the battleground of the mind. Our minds are under a constant daily barrage to think a certain way, which in this hour often evokes conforming to malice. We must rise above it. If we are to “shine like lights in the middle of a crooked and perverse nation” (Philippians 2:15), we need to think differently than a society that is in defiant rebellion against God. We see a perfect example of this in today’s devotional text. It’s a short history lesson about Daniel and his three friends, teenage exiles, trying to faithfully serve their God in the midst of a godless society in Babylon—a land of tyranny, pagan idolatry, and cultural conformity.

In Daniel 1, we see a brainwashing strategy in motion. The narcissistic King Nebuchadnezzar sought to assimilate these exiled youths into Babylonian culture by obliterating their religious and cultural identity and creating dependence upon the royal court. He ordered that these Hebrews under his subjugation must attend Pagan University. The goal of Pagan U was to strip these guys of their former identity—national and cultural heritage—while indoctrinating them with Babylonian language, customs, and beliefs. Their birth names, which once reflected their faith in Jehovah, were changed to reflect the gods of the land. They were schooled in the language and mythological literature of the Babylonians. The bullying and intimidation tactics of Pagan U would’ve been more than enough to cause any faint of heart to compromise, but these were no faint-of-heart teenagers. They didn’t just go with the flow and give in to what social psychologists of our day define as the “groupthink” mentality. It wasn’t easy, yet these bold young people didn’t abandon their faith and convictions for cultural conformity.

Though they were appointed a daily provision of the king’s delicacies, Daniel and his friends resisted them. Why? Verse 8 says: “But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food…” They considered the king’s food defiled for at least three reasons. First, it wasn’t kosher. Second, it was very likely sacrificed to idols. Third, eating the king’s food implied fellowship and conformity with Babylon’s institutional and cultural defiance of God. Surely this would label them as being uncooperative and bring them under threat of punishment. Nevertheless, Daniel didn’t do what the culture demanded of him because his priorities weren’t about staying relevant, preserving his social status, or amassing likes on his social media posts; Daniel’s first order of business was an unflinching conviction that he would not “defile himself” by compromising what was all-important to His God. He and his friends risked everything, reputation and livelihood, to remain faithful to their God-given purpose.

But we see another principle at work here. While Daniel and his friends refused to conform, they also showed respect to the pagan authorities in the king’s court. This undoubtedly worked in their favor when Daniel proposed to them a “better” meal plan. His solution was embraced because their stance wasn’t one of hostility and vitriol. God gave them favor with those in power, and those in power not only listened to them, they were influenced by the youths’ faith and wisdom. “They stood before the king. And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom.”

Imagine if their whole purpose or agenda in life became relegated to the triviality of just fighting King Nebuchadnezzar. They would’ve missed their whole mission. What a shortcoming of their destiny that would’ve been. Instead, God had a much bigger plan. It was to focus on His agenda and for them to become grace-filled agents of light in a dark world. They couldn’t do that with malice in their hearts. They had to recognize that their battle wasn’t against flesh and blood, or other human beings, but against “the god of the age that was blinding the minds of unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 4:4). We see this unfold throughout the entire book of Daniel.

Consider that this world is transitory and not your home—you are just passing through. Know that there isn’t time for conformity for the sake of preserving social status. God put us here in this specific time to shine as lights in a dark place, and like Daniel, we have a small window of opportunity to make a difference—to be an agent of grace and not an ambassador of malice. Make the days count. Reconsider your diet—instead of feasting daily on a buffet of negative media, turn to God’s Word for a healthy nourishment of Good News. Remember that there is a wrong way to be right. Standing up for God’s truth in a wrong spirit (vitriol, animosity, disrespecting and disparaging your opponents) is toxic to movements of grace. Learn from Daniel and his friends. God favored them because they had character to resist, courage to stand, and gentleness and respect for those of pagan worldviews (1 Peter 3:15-16). That’s why their legacy is enduring. What will be your legacy? Think about that as you seek to abide in Him in these times.

PRAYER

Dear God, help us in our struggle to resist conforming to this world’s pattern. The lure of conforming to the agenda of human malice is so powerful in these times. Let our heavenly mission not become hijacked by earthly motives. Holy Spirit teach us to discern your perfect will, that we would know how to shine as lights in a dark time. Renew our minds with discernment and understanding, guard our hearts with compassion and mercy, fill our words with grace that speaks truth along with dignity and respect. Keep us about our Father’s business and let us not get tripped up by cultural conformity. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. How might a non-Christian acquaintance describe you? When have you taken a Christian stand in a non-Christian setting?
  2. What were the characteristics of the teenage captives? (Daniel 1:3-4)
  3. What was Daniel’s resolve and how did the chief official respond to Daniel’s request? (Daniel 1:8-14)
  4. What was the result of the test? (Daniel 1:15-16) What did God give to the four men and what did Nebuchadnezzar conclude concerning them? (Daniel 1:17-20)     
  5. This week, what is something you can do to rise above the cultural hostility and toxic malice of our times? How can you win the battle of the mind—to resist fighting against flesh and blood and turn your focus toward the spiritual warfare that exists with the “god of this age”?

Subscribe to “Abiding In Him” and get the latest devotional in your Inbox once a week.

This VBS curriculum is based on the Old Testament book of Daniel. The theme teaches children how to live with courage in uncertain times. It was designed as a camp curriculum for children 8-12 years of age. Can also serve as a 5-week Sunday morning children’s ministry teaching series.

A Good News Heart in a Bad News World

Text: Psalm 112:1-10

“He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.” —Psalm 112:7

Nobody likes bad news, although I did have quite an affinity with the “Bad News Bears” of the 70s when I was a kid. I think that film resonated with me due to my love for baseball intertwined with much dysfunction I experienced in childhood. I could truly relate with those outcasts, though the hard-drinking, grumpy coach in the movie had nothing on my real Little League coaches who smoked marijuana during our practices.

I would’ve never imagined back then that my “baseball” future would entail sharing the Gospel with kids all over the world through a global sports ministry. God has certainly redeemed the game of baseball in my life!!!

Psalm 112 speaks of a person with a Good News heart in a bad news world. Because this worshiper “fears the Lord,” and “greatly delights in His commandments,” he “is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.” Charles Spurgeon noted, “He is neither fickle nor cowardly; when he is undecided as to his course he is still fixed in heart: he may change his plan, but not the purpose of his soul.”

Living with a fearless heart isn’t about being oblivious, impervious, in denial or dismissive of reality. It’s about having the utmost confidence in the One Who still speaks to this present storm, and trusting His heart when things are spiraling out of your control. Bad news might come to us from our family, the doctor, the economy, the unfaithful, the culture around us, or from politics. Yet the one who fears the LORD will not be afraid.

Too often we have the right theology, but not the right doxology. Though our mind knows the lyrics to that historic creed, we still find our heart singing a song of anxiety and panic. We tend to go “off-pitch” when our circumstances are in disharmony with our faith. We might know all the Sunday School answers, and yet still recoil at the pressures of the real life test. The psalmist wants us to be sure—“His heart is steady; he will not be afraid” (v.8)—that the Good News is greater than the bad news.

This kind of fearlessness isn’t about shrugging off reality, or retreating into some place of passive resignation, but with a very intentional and deliberate active trust in the goodness of our Father. I pray that the next time you are feeling overwhelmed with bad news, you will be reminded of all the good the Lord has promised you, and focus on the glorious redemption that is sure to headline your future.

PRAYER

Dear God, how I yearn for the steadiness that David highlights in this Psalm. Teach me how to have a steadfast heart that beats confidently in a circumstance-challenged body… a fearless calm when surrounded by gloominess and uncertainty… a Good News heart in a bad news world. Holy Spirit, liberate my soul to trust and not fret… free me to worship more and worry less. In Jesus’ blessed name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. What are the things that worry you, or unsettle you about the future?
  2. Why is it often difficult to have a Good News heart in a bad news world?
  3. Where does the godly person find his or her sense of security? (Psalm 112:7) What can this person expect in the future? (Psalm 112:8)
  4. When have you seen God redeem something bad and turn it into something good?
  5. Where might you need a change of perspective to become more like the person described in this passage?

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Braveheart: Gideon Youth Bible Study Series

Gideon Bible Study for Teens, Young Adults

“Braveheart” is a youth Bible study series for teens and young adults, featuring lessons from the story of Gideon in the Old Testament book of Judges (chapters 6-8). It’s fitting for a youth group or Sunday School series, a summer camp theme, discipleship retreat, or small group study. Though this story is popular with young people, the curriculum and discussion format can easily be adapted for any age Bible study group, men’s ministry, or prison/juvenile center ministry. 

The leader guides come with background summaries and overviews, pre-lesson activities, icebreakers, student exercises, discussion outlines, team building activities, and printable handouts (Talk Sheets). Includes high resolution logo/graphics/backgrounds for banners, visuals, and presentations, as well as a PowerPoint template.

Lesson 1: God Has a Plan Even When Life is Hard. Though Gideon’s people had turned their back on God and were reaping the consequences, the Lord still heard their cries of distress. No matter  how ugly our circumstances get, no matter how far we have wandered, God is still faithful, and He still has a plan for our good and our future.

Lesson 2: Confronting Our Idols and Insecurity. God calls us to worship Him alone, with uncompromising devotion. Before Gideon could lead his people to bravely face their oppressors, he first had to confront his people’s idolatry and his own insecurities.

Lesson 3: Our Doubts and Fears Don’t Disqualify Us From God’s Plan. Through Gideon’s story, we see that God is much bigger than our weaknesses, and He takes great and gracious measures to overcome our trepidation and our fears, so that we can serve Him with a brave heart.

Lesson 4: The Dark Side of Success and Power. The Bible doesn’t sugarcoat people’s weaknesses; it gives us the good, the bad, and the ugly, so that we might learn to “guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”

Get it HERE

Gideon: Bible Camp Theme or VBS Curriculum

Gideon Bible Story for Kids

Gideon Bible story camp theme or VBS curriculum is based on the Old Testament book of Judges. This resilient “overcomer” story will resonate with kids in many ways—Gideon was born into family hardship, his future looked bleak, he struggled with injustices, his people were forced into “social distancing” due to Midianite oppression, he had feelings of insecurity and inferiority, he faced insurmountable odds, and yet he saw God come through despite those odds. Gideon came to see that His LORD was the GOD OVER ALL THINGS (G.O.A.T.).

This resource was designed as a camp curriculum for children 8-12 years of age but can also serve as a VBS theme, a 5-week Sunday morning children’s ministry teaching series, Sunday School curriculum, Backyard Bible club, or kids’ sports camp curriculum. It’s also a fitting resource for homeschooling parents, or those facilitating their own Vacation Bible School during times of “social distancing” due to Covid-19.

  • (DAY ONE) God Has a Plan Even When Life is Hard
  • (DAY TWO) God Wants Us to Worship Him Alone
  • (DAY THREE) God Is Bigger Than Our Doubts and Fears
  • (DAY FOUR) God Wants Us to Trust and Rely On Him
  • (DAY FIVE) Jesus is The One True King

Get it HERE

Coronavirus and Social Distancing: 5 Things to Remember

Text: Nehemiah 1:1-11

“As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” —Nehemiah 1:4

For this week’s Abiding In Him devotion, I want to share with you five things we can remember during an unprecedented time of social distancing due to the Coronavirus.

1. Remember how God defines His Church.

With church doors temporarily closing all over the country, it’s important to remember that the New Testament “church” was never defined as a building, a service time, or a particular denomination. Even though these may speak to aspects of how we gather “as” the church, they don’t define the church. Church isn’t something we go to, it’s WHO WE ARE as God’s body—practically His hands and feet in a broken world. The inconvenience of the Coronavirus gives us an opportunity to pause and remember WHO WE ARE as “salt” (a preserving agent) in the world today (Matthew 5:13). We are thankful for the technology of Zoom and WhatsApp that has helped us to continue to fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ, but we’ve also had time to have refreshing conversations about church as our identity, and not merely just a place in which we gather. Jesus is building His Church. HE is the UNCONQUERABLE King advancing an UNSTOPPABLE kingdom, of which the gates of hell will never prevail against. His throne hasn’t been rattled by this Coronavirus—it remains UNSHAKEN (Hebrews 12:27). Be encouraged by that, and remember WHO YOU ARE as His beloved.

2. Remember that discipleship begins in our homes.

According to scripture, parents are to be the primary disciplers of their children. In some ways, that idea can get lost in our Western Christian paradigms. This is a great time to be mindful that God never intended for you to outsource the discipleship of your children to “the trained professionals.” Take this time to get into God’s Word together. You don’t need to have all the answers to questions that arise from your Bible discussions together. In fact, your kids will respect your example more when you admit that you don’t have all the answers about the infinitely complex Creator of this universe. With such a BIG GOD, there is supposed to be room for wonder and mystery. It’s those who think they have all the answers that reveal their perception of God is very small, especially if God can be entirely explained by such finite human minds. The enigma of Isaiah 55:8-9 reveals that our God is so much bigger than our limited comprehension. David never considered the size of Goliath because he knew the size of his God was beyond comprehension. You are a disciple-maker right now, right where you are. That’s the mission of the Church. You can be about your Father’s business in your own home. Git-R-Done!

3. Remember the lostness of our world.

This week, I read that in Iran, a person dies from Coronavirus every 10 minutes. Let the thought of tens of thousands of people dying and slipping into eternity break your heart—especially as it pertains to those who are lost without Christ. Nehemiah’s heart broke for the things that broke God’s heart. I wrote a book about this called “Shapers.” When Nehemiah had his heart broken, he didn’t spring into his construction and renovation project immediately. He spent four months in isolated prayer. His social distancing prepared him for an unimaginable work that later contributed to reviving a whole nation. Once he was catapulted from that prayer chamber, in God’s right timing, all of the provision (the king’s throne) of the kingdom of Persia stood behind him. God gave him the favor of a pagan king with unlimited resources to do the job. Imagine the kind of gospel influence that can emerge from this present crisis when the church is catapulted back into everyday societal norms with a renewed missional focus. We have a much bigger throne behind us than a pagan king!!! Pray for God to break your heart for what breaks His, and to give you a renewed vision for how you can be His witness to gospel-destitute souls.

4. Remember that there are still ways to serve our neighbors and the marginalized, the underserved, and those at risk, even when we are “social distancing.”

Compassion hasn’t been canceled. Kindness hasn’t been canceled. Generosity hasn’t been canceled. As part of our normal programs throughout the calendar year, Breakaway Outreach helps to provide holistic supplementation (including meals, nutrition, and hygiene) for at-risk children affected by economic insecurity in our area. As Coronavirus affects closures to schools and after school programs, we are working creatively with others in our network to make sure no kiddos go hungry or get neglected of wellness resources. I’ve been inspired by many stories of altruism this week—churches utilizing their buildings to serve children of healthcare professionals who are working tirelessly around the clock, college students going grocery shopping for vulnerable elderly folks so they don’t have to risk leaving their homes, young people organizing donation centers to get food and supplies to low income families who don’t have the privilege of being able to stockpile goods. There are ways we can serve others without being exposed to large crowds. This requires getting quiet before God and letting Him speak into our hearts about how we can creatively flesh out compassion and generosity in such a time as this.

5. Remember to pray through a scriptural lens.

Many people have been asking, “Why is God allowing this?” Though our tendency may be to pray for God to just miraculously take away this plague and all of the inconveniences and suffering it brings, it’s also important to search the scriptures and pray according to God’s Word (the final authority in every aspect of a believer’s life). Dr. Roger Barrier has written a worthy response to why God allows plagues and how we should respond through the lens of scripture (our family had a great discussion and prayer time together while navigating this post). Sometimes it was to abolish idolatry, confront arrogance, reveal sin and disobedience, or lead people to repentance. Regardless of how we interpret the reason for this pandemic, and I try to be very careful about making assumptions, we should be earnest about praying for God’s purposes to be accomplished through manifold unknowns. We should pray for God to convict hearts, reveal sin, confront our personal and cultural idols, bring hearts to repentance, and draw people to Himself. We should pray for miracles. We should pray boldly for protection. We should pray for healing where there is infection. We should expect God to show forth His power, yet not to the neglect of spiritual introspection and biblical examination of ourselves. We should pray for the Holy Spirit to show us things we need to see about our communities, our nation, the world, and ourselves. If we do this, we may even see a major revival on the other end of this global crisis.

Think about these five things as you seek to abide in Him during times of social distancing.

PRAYER

Father, remind us that there is a purpose to every season in life. No matter what we face, we can be assured that You are on the throne, sovereign over all things. We trust Your heart, even in our constraints. We seek Your heart for the things that need to break ours. Holy Spirit, revive our prayer life. Confront our idols. Convict us of sin. Lead us to repentance. Bring healing through confession. Give us a healthy ecclesiastical identity and stir our missional creativity for discipleship. Show us our place in this moment, and remind us that we were made for such a time as this. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. What has been the hardest part of your social distancing during the Coronavirus emergency? What has been positive?
  2. Of the five things listed above that are worth remembering, which one most resonates with you in this moment?
  3. Read Nehemiah 1:1-11. What was significant about Jerusalem’s walls of protection being destroyed? How did Nehemiah react to the news about suffering Jerusalem and the exiles? (Nehemiah 1:4)
  4. How did Nehemiah describe God in his prayer (Nehemiah 1:5)? What are the benefits of focusing on the attributes of God?
  5. What is the major theme of Nehemiah’s prayer? On whose behalf did Nehemiah pray and fast? What specific request did Nehemiah ask God to grant him? What can we learn from Nehemiah’s prayer life that may help us during this pandemic?

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A Wrong Way to Be Right

Text: Numbers 20:2-13

“In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” — Ephesians 4:26

In our household, especially when there are heated disagreements, we try to recall that there is a wrong way to be right. When conflict or arguments arise, the way we posture ourselves is just as important, if not more important, than the issue we may be defending or the stance we may be taking. We may feel that our position is right, or just, but the way we posture ourselves often puts us in the wrong.

God doesn’t want us to just be right on an issue, He wants us to be right in our posture, our tone, and our expression.

After a long time (nearly 40 years) of aimless wandering in the wilderness, Israel was ready to move on and enter the Promised Land. The camp had been complaining about a lack of water and the people began to quarrel with Moses, their leader. He took the matter to God and the Lord spoke to Moses saying, “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” (Numbers 20:8)

Moses and Aaron gathered the people saying, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” They had been down this road before and Moses seems to be running out of patience (Exodus 17). Then he lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly.

There was evidently something very severe about Moses’ behavior and the fact that he struck the rock. It was something to which God took exception. Back at Mount Sinai, God told Moses to strike the rock and water came forth (Exodus 17:6). But here at Meribah he was merely instructed to speak to the rock, yet with the rod in his hand. He failed to do what God told him to do.

Moses lectured the “rebels” with a resentful attitude of heart and carelessness of posture that he had not shown before—one of anger and contempt for the people of God. His bitterness was on reckless display. It says in Psalm 106:32-33…

They angered him at the waters of Meribah,
and it went ill with Moses on their account,
for they made his spirit bitter,
and he spoke rashly with his lips.

Though God’s Word describes how the people provoked Moses here, and commentators have given hundreds of explanations for the outcomes, we find not a single excuse for his behavior. It’s been observed that Moses took the rebellion of the people against the Lord too personally and also over-magnified his own partnership with God. His lapse into contempt led him into a lapse of subtle pride. The Lord declared that his actions were rooted in unbelief, and that he failed to “uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel” (Numbers 20:12). The consequences would be severe—“therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.”

It sounds kind of harsh that this episode alone would keep Moses out of the Promised Land, but it did.

The Bible tells us that the anger of man doesn’t produce the righteousness of God (James 1:20). When arguing with a spouse or sibling, deliberating with colleagues in the boardroom or the office, sparring with other believers over important leadership issues in the church, or when debating political issues with those of different viewpoints, we need to remember that there is a wrong way to be right. God expects us to have a posture of humility, gentleness, and respect (1 Peter 2:17, 1 Peter 3:15, Titus 2:7)—one that affirms those issues or principles that are important to us and in keeping with His Word, but also in a way that values those people who may not be in agreement with us.

When you are confronted with relationship issues that ruffle your feathers, remember the importance of upholding God as holy in all manner of conduct and conversation (1 Peter 1:15-16). Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, we understand that there is a wrong way to be right. Even if we are right on an issue it doesn’t mean we are right in expression or posture. Forgive us where we have failed you in this regard. Help us to uphold you as holy in every manner of our daily interactions. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. Where have you seen the destructiveness of man’s anger in the world today?
  2. How is God dishonored when we make hasty or emotion-charged decisions?
  3. When have you been right in a wrong way?
  4. What can you take away from this passage in Numbers 20:2-13?
  5. What is a specific action you can take this week to uphold God as holy in your conduct and conversations?

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Thanksgiving Family Devotional

Text: Luke 17:11-19

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” —1 Thessalonians 5:18

In her autobiography, Corrie ten Boom described a horrific time she and her sister experienced in a Nazi concentration camp during the early 1940s. On one occasion they were forced to take off their clothes during an inspection. Corrie stood in line feeling defiled and forsaken. Suddenly, she remembered that Jesus had hung naked on the cross. Struck with wonder and worship, Corrie whispered to her sister, “Betsie, they took His clothes too.” Betsie gasped and said, “Oh, Corrie, … and I never thanked Him.”

In Luke 17:11-19, we read a passage that appears to be a simple account of Jesus working a healing miracle. But there is also a contrast with this incident and other miracles that Jesus performed, since the healing itself is not emphasized as much as the reaction to it.

Lepers of ancient society were rejected and treated as outcasts. They were required to live outside the city in leper camps (Numbers 5:2-3) and were to cry out to warn others to keep away from them as they walked the streets (Leviticus 13:45-46). We can’t even begin to imagine their sense of shame and loss of all dignity… humanity. In utter desperation, these ten lepers cry out to Jesus for mercy. “Go and show yourselves to the priests,” he said. As they went they were all healed—all ten of them. Then only one of them—a Samaritan—upon realizing he had been healed, turned back with a loud voice of praise, fell on his face at Jesus’ feet and gave him thanks.

Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

God’s blessings can be appreciated or underappreciated. One of the signs of a maturing faith is that it continues to react to the wonders of God with praise, thanksgiving, and adoration. As matter of fact, if we ever find that our faith is no longer moved with awe and wonder at the living God then our faith has most likely stagnated. We might be lukewarm, or worse—even backslidden.

It is too easy to slip into cruise control on our spiritual journey; we lose that wide-eyed wonder, take for granted the incessant works of our Lord, and have our hearts become dull. In this state of complacency, God’s works are thought of more in past tense rather than present tense. Yet in Psalm 68:19 we find a worshiper praising God because he understood that God—who daily bears us up—is always working on our behalf. The writer of Hebrews describes Jesus as our High Priest who “always lives to make intercession” for us (Hebrews 7:25).

Cory Asbury’s lyrics attest, “the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God” keeps chasing me down. It’s a relentless pursuit that never ceases. The more I am aware of this unfailing love, the more I am filled with awe-struck wonder—worship. Praise. Thanksgiving.

We can learn much from the reaction of a grateful Samaritan who was healed of his leprosy. Praise comes very naturally when you focus on the living God. And there is no place for mediocrity in a soul that is filled with such praise and thanksgiving. Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

Dear God, thank you for your goodness and for your blessings over our lives. You are the living God who daily bears us up—always working on our behalf, even behind the scenes when we are unaware. Forgive us for not thanking or praising you enough. If it’s been lost, please restore that wide-eyed wonder of WHO you are and what you are doing in us and around us. Renew our spirits that our cup would overflow with joy and praise this Thanksgiving season and throughout the year. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. For what are you most thankful?
  2. What are some gratitude killers in the routine of our lives?
  3. In what ways do thankfulness or thanklessness correlate with our faith? What might they reflect about our faith?
  4. Where have you lost some wide-eyed wonder in your worship of Him?
  5. How can you cultivate a heart of praise and thanksgiving this week?

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J.S. Bach: Soli Deo Gloria

Text: Colossians 3:1-17

“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” —Colossians 3:17

Johann Sebastian Bach is regarded as one of the most brilliant composers of all time. From the Baroque era to present, his works have been revered for their musical complexities and stylistic innovations. Not a bad legacy for the musician who was once critiqued by a town councilor in describing his job candidacy: “Since the best man cannot be obtained we will have to resort to a mediocre one.”

In 1685, Bach was born into a well-connected musical family from Eisenach, a town in central Germany that was strongly associated with Martin Luther and the German Reformation. As a child he learned violin, harpsichord, and organ. After becoming an orphan at age 10, the youngster lived with his eldest brother for several years while using music to express his innermost thoughts and feelings. His gift was not hidden for long as he landed his first job as a church organist when he was seventeen years old. When Bach played music he felt his soul praising God, once noting that the chief end of all music “should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.”

At one church where he worked, the people began to complain about the music he had been composing, saying it was “too showy” and sinful. Their criticisms cut him deeply. Bach was stunned, attesting “my music comes from the heart as a humble offering to God… no matter what musical style I use.” From this season of pruning came a practice that would ultimately mark his legacy for generations to come. Whenever he began a new composition, he bowed his head and prayed:

“Jesus, help me show your glory through the music I write. May it bring you joy even as it brings joy to your people.”

Before writing even one note, Bach etched across the top of the page the letters JJ (Jesu juva; Latin for “Jesus, help”) or JH (for the German of the same phrase). Whether he was writing something for the court, for his friend Prince Leopold, or for the church, he would begin his work by petitioning Christ to help him. “I play the notes as they are written but it is God who makes the music,” he believed. And when he was done, he would add the initials SDG (Soli Deo Gloria)—praying that each piece of music would humbly proclaim “To God Alone be the Glory.”

As part of Paul’s “Put on the New Self” address to Christ-followers in Colossae (Colossians 3:1-17), believers are urged to “set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (v.2); to put on compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience (v.12); to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (v. 16). The variety here suggests that God delights in creative, spontaneous worship whether in the assembly or in the home. And most importantly—“whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (v.17).

Bach had his own unique way of reminding himself the importance of these words—setting the mind’s affection toward that which is pleasing and glorifying to God in everything, word or deed. How might you be able to mark your days with “all for the glory of God” as the signature of your effort and activity? What could become your initials for asking Jesus’ help as you engage in your daily work? What might your life look like if you covered each piece of your days with that same prayer? What kind of spontaneous worship might that elicit? Imagine the effect of your to-do list with “JJ” at the top and “SDG” at the bottom. Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week!

PRAYER

Lord Jesus, I need your help. Apart from you I can do nothing of any significance or lasting effect. Help me to find my joy in doing everything for your glory alone. Teach me how to practice this in my daily approach to life. In your name and for your honor, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. Where did Paul tell the Colossians to turn their attention? (Colossians 3:1)
  2. How were the Colossian believers called to clothe themselves? (vv.12-17)
  3. What is one principle that ought to guide everything we do? (V.17)
  4. If you consistently set your affection on Christ, how would your life be different?
  5. How can you be mindful to ask for Jesus’ help as you engage in your daily work this week?

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Guideposts for Wandering Souls

Text: Jeremiah 31:1-25

“Set up road markers for yourself; make yourself guideposts; consider well the highway, the road by which you went.” —Jeremiah 31:21

In ancient times, long before maps and GPS devices, when travelers had to traverse unknown territories they would leave behind some form of markers that would help them find their way back again. These waymarks, often in the form of roughhewn wooden posts or piles of stones, not only helped travelers retrace their steps, but they would also serve as reliable guideposts for those who were to come along after them.

In Jeremiah 31, Israel had been unfaithful to God and was falling into the hand of their enemies. For this disobedience they would be exiled from the homeland and scattered to other nations. Yet in the midst of this sad saga of defeat, God promised to one day bring the people back to their land. As they were being exiled they were instructed to set up “guideposts” along the way to point the way back home (Jeremiah 31:21).

This passage reveals the goodness of our heavenly Father—for in the same breath that He speaks punishment for Israel’s transgressions He is also speaking restoration for their future. God’s discipline attests to His love: “For the Lord disciplines those He loves” (Proverbs 3:12, Hebrews 12:6). His discipline always includes a process of correction and restoration.

In this context God is telling Israel that their punishment for backsliding is not the end of the story. God always has a return plan—even when we’ve been sent to a bitter place of correction. This future return trip—the way back home—was something the tribes were told to “consider well.” Jeremiah pictured a clear road with signposts that would guide Israel back to their first love—a restored relationship with their Covenant God.

These words are a call to Israel to prepare for their return. No matter how far we have wandered in our backslidings, the kindness of God calls us to prepare our hearts for a return. This is what the Bible refers to as repentance.

Today guideposts are also used to warn travelers of dangerous terrain, such as mountainous roads with steep drop-offs. They are put there to protect a person from going off the road and getting into danger. As Bible believing Christ-followers, we also have a responsibility to set up guideposts for those around us or those coming along behind us, to help keep them from wandering off the path to God.

I read a story of a man who came across a swollen, raging river that with great difficulty he was at last able to cross. When he reached the other side another fellow was surprised to see him begin to gather and chop sturdy wood and saw that he was constructing a bridge. The surprised fellow asked him, “Why build a bridge now? You are safely over.” The man replied, “My son will be following along behind me. The bridge is for him.”

It’s encouraging to remember that God “guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3), and that His discipline always leads to restoration. Additionally, it is no small responsibility on our part to set up guardrails for the next generation and guideposts for our children. Perhaps this weight of responsibility is what prompted the psalmist to declare: “So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.”

What guardrails can you set up to keep your heart from wandering away from God? What guideposts can you create to help others make the journey home to God? Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

God, thank you for guiding me in the paths of your righteousness. Even when my heart has wandered, you have always disciplined me with a restoration in mind. Help me to faithfully set up guideposts in my life that show others the path to Jesus. May these waymarks be a witness to those around me and to the next generation. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. What is your favorite story about getting lost?
  2. Why do you think God disciplines those whom He loves?
  3. When has God’s discipline led to reproof and restoration in your life?
  4. What kinds of guideposts have brought you back to God when your heart has wandered?
  5. In what ways can you create guideposts that help others find the path to Jesus?

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